While people love cat videos, to make a truly original work of commercial art that will make a mark, a brand must take the level of LOLZ to new heights. German supermarket chain Netto and agency Jung von Matt clearly know this. For its latest spot, the brand created a perfectly scaled cat-sized supermarket to get performing felines to imitate our human routine of buying food. The resulting "Netto-Katzen" quickly went viral, with over 5 million views on YouTube, and more than a few questions about just how in the name of Lil Bub they managed to pull it off.
Director Brian Lee Hughes is no stranger to wrangling animals for brands. He's helped dogs drive Subarus, and piglets street luge for Geico, among others, but even for him, cats present a unique challenge.
"Cats are particularly independent," says Hughes. "We had a couple cats for each moment so that we could gauge which one was more up for performing, and to ensure that they would get tons of rest in-between. They actually built a motel for the cats. The fat cat was the king of the film for me. He was all about his snacks and performed perfectly on the first take. Love that dude."
The idea was to make a brand ode to the iconic tropes of Internet cats. Hughes says the story boards were essentially what you see in the spot, but there was an active conversation throughout as to whether the films should be a series of modular moments shot exactly like viral films, or if there should be a more narrative progression that ties our tour of the tropes together. "Clearly, the narrative approach is where we ended up," says Hughes.
Shot over three days in Vilnius, Lithuania, Hughes says the key to making it happen for him was all about knowing what he needed, and knowing when he had it, all whilst being ravaged by raging cat allergies.
The cat-sized Netto store was created by production designer Ruta Kiskyte. Hughes says she and her team built it all, every shelf, and every single cat-sized package, within a week. "Maybe a 1,000 soda bottles made from lathed wood dowling, which they painted, labeled, and capped," he says. "Incredible."
And while you may think something like this is largely created with a computer, Hughes shot with about 15 cats, and 99% of the spot is real.
"The only trained cats we had were the one’s with the shopping carts, and even with plenty of trainer prep, it was still a miracle to get a perfect take," he says. "Once you get one, everyone breathes again and you move on. Also, cats won’t look right at the lens, so for the dramatic cat we used a trick I had in my bag of having a next-gen teleprompter playing bird films right in front of the lens. It worked. Almost everything was shot in-camera one cat at a time, so the technical element of compositing the layers was something we were conscious of constantly, and we had the knowing eyes of post-production people on-set to give us assurances. Regarding CG only the lower jaw of the shocked cat, the lower jaw of the 'no no no' cat, and the grumpy cat smile at the end were digital."
Check out the making-of video for more behind-the-scenes cat action.